The Crack in the Mountain: 5 Tips for An Epic Hiking Experience!

Rock formation, gravel, sky
Rock formation, gravel, sky

I didn’t quite achieve my 52 hikes goal in 2023 so I’m giving it another go in 2024. Hiking in the desert will be interesting during this first quarter and I have several hikes to check out. First up: The Crack in the Mountain, a popular trail near Lake Havasu City, AZ.

This trail is also known as “Sara’s Crack” due to its location in Sara Park. You can bet I had some fun coming up with titles for this post! The trail is 3.4 miles and will take you down a wash, through the crack, and back. It is a moderate hike according to All Trails and I would agree! The slot canyon section requires some rock scrambling and using a rope to navigate a dry waterfall in one area.

A slot canyon is a narrow canyon formed by erosion from waters rushing through it, typically over millions of years. They are fairly common in the American Southwest and dozens can be found in Arizona alone. The most popular is Antelope Canyon but don’t discount the smaller ones for some adventurous hikes.

The trail offers a unique hiking experience in the desert. The crown jewel is undoubtedly the narrow, winding slot canyon. Towering rock walls embrace you as you navigate through this natural area, creating a feeling of awe and adventure. Scrambling over rocks and squeezing through tight sections, adds an element of physical challenge to the journey. If you are looking for an adventure on the hiking trail, this should be on your list!

Trail Head Sign
graphic with list of essential items for hiking

Tip 1: Planning Your Adventure

It is important to understand the terrain and difficulty before you begin. I cannot emphasize enough that the hike through the canyon will require some agility and flexibility, It can be good to challenge yourself but be careful not to stretch your capabilities too far. Slot canyons can be dangerous. Excessive heat in the summer months along with flash flooding can pose risks so be sure to check the weather before you hit the trail.

The trail primarily follows a wash, and the loose gravel can be challenging to walk in, kind of like sand but chunkier.  Sturdy hiking boots with good traction are important for navigating uneven terrain and slippery rocks. Avoid sandals or flip-flops, as they offer no protection and can lead to accidents.

Pack plenty of water: You can’t go wrong with over-hydrating on a desert hike. Aim for at least 2 liters of water, even if it seems like a lot. Remember, the dry air and exertion can dehydrate you quickly. This can happen even during the cooler, winter months. Trust me on this one and don’t ask how I know!

The Arizona sun can be brutal, especially in the narrow confines of the slot canyon. Aim for December to April when temperatures are milder, making the hike more enjoyable and reducing the risk of heatstroke. We hiked the trail in early January, and I started in 3 layers. The sun was pretty warm in the open areas, so I quickly shed the top layer. Temperatures can be pretty deceiving in the Arizona desert and the difference between sun and shade can feel like quite a lot so dress in multiple layers to cover your bases.

Tip 2: Getting There and Getting Started

The trailhead is located off Hwy. 95 in Sara Park southeast of Lake Havasu City. We parked in the parking lot for the trailhead and headed off to the yellow trail. There are no restrooms on the trail so take advantage of the pit toilet at the trailhead before heading out.

We saw lots of people and pets the day we went. Everyone was patient and helpful in the narrow passageways which made for a great experience. A gentle reminder: please pick up after your pet! We saw several missed opportunities which can lead to a frustrating experience if you aren’t watching where you walk. Again…leave no trace. Please.

Tip 3: Immerse Yourself in the Natural Beauty

Photography in a slot canyon can be challenging with many areas of light and dark contrast, narrow passageways, and other hikers to navigate around. We met some people on the way into the canyon who laughed at my camera and said, “Good luck getting any pictures”. I’ve been in challenging environments before so that didn’t detour me one bit! I hike with my favorite “walk around” lens, the 24-105mm f4.0. This lens is fabulous and goes from wide to telephoto with a quick twist of the wrist. I took quite a few shots with my iPhone and will probably only take that the next time we hike the canyon.

My focus for this trip was primarily on experiencing the hike but I did manage to find a few images to share! The rock shapes are so interesting and thinking what it took to form them makes them even more impressive! In the bottom photo I wondered if that opening led to another area for exploring? 

Fun fact: The Havasupai people, who have inhabited the Grand Canyon region for centuries, used this area as a trade route. Can you imagine what it must have been like to navigate this route, through the canyon, loaded down with goods to trade?

Tip 4: Overcome the challenges along the way

There are a few strategies to keep in mind for the narrow passages. Be patient. The crack can get tight in some spots, so be prepared to squeeze through. If you’re claustrophobic or uncomfortable with confined spaces, it’s best to skip this section and take the upper trail around the canyon. Also, bring a flashlight or headlamp to navigate any dark spots in the canyon or to navigate out if it gets close to sunset.

The section with the rope is a dry waterfall which is pretty cool! I chose to slide down it and managed it without too much trouble. The climb back up, however, required some effort and upper body strength. I made it just fine and loved the feeling of being a climber! I would definitely do it again but know your comfort level with this type of exertion.

Take a break and enjoy some water and snacks while taking in the marvels of such an amazing natural area. Imagine the water rushing through the canyon forming the grooves and smoothing the edges over millions of years. Don’t forget to pick up your trash!

I thought about what it would have been like for the Havasupai people as they traveled back and forth with their goods. I barely navigated myself and a camera at times!

Tip 5: Enjoy the trail responsibly

Preserve the beauty of the trail and leave no trace. Pack out all your trash and leave the trail as you found it, or even better, a little cleaner. Respect the natural beauty of the area and help preserve it for future generations.

We didn’t see any wildlife, but the trail boasts an assortment of birds and small mammals. You might encounter various bird species, from colorful songbirds to majestic raptors soaring above. Keep an eye out for squirrels and chipmunks, and if you’re lucky, you might spot larger mammals like deer or even glimpses of elusive desert creatures such as lizards and snakes. Remember to observe wildlife from a respectful distance and enjoy the natural beauty they bring to your hiking experience.

Stop and enjoy the moment

Take time to celebrate your hiking achievement by stopping and enjoying the moment as you emerge from the canyon. You can now decide to go back the same way, continue the hike to the lake, or take the high path and go back above the canyon.

Most hikers take between 1-2 hours to complete the out-and-back journey, depending on their pace and how long they linger in the scenic crack. It took us roughly 3 hours to hike it but I tend to stop and take pictures frequently. A lot of pictures.

When I heard about this hike, I knew it would be amazing and it didn’t disappoint. The other hikers were friendly and patient, encouraging each other during the more difficult parts.

If you are in the Lake Havasu City area this is a hike to add to your list! Well, unless it is July and melt-your-face-off hot. Otherwise, go early and enjoy a beautiful area full of amazing nature! We plan on doing this hike again before we leave the area, hiking to see the water and Arizona’s very own Balance Rock! 

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Hi! I’m Shelle and my mission is simple: to inspire and empower adventurous souls like you to embark on unforgettable journeys into the heart of nature. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a passionate photographer, or simply someone who loves to wander, we’re here to fuel your wanderlust and provide you with the tools and resources you need to make the most of your outdoor adventures.

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